Let go of the rat race mentality

Image credit: iStock

In Dad Talk, our contributor KC Wong muses on parenthood and being a father to his two children.

Last week, I had a minor scare when my daughter did not return home from school by the stipulated time. “Does she have supplementary class today?” I texted my wife. “No,” she replied, followed by a worried-looking emoji. Immediately, she sought help from the parents’ chat group. Thankfully, my wife later remembered our daughter was going to support her friends at the 2018 edition of the Singapore-Malaysia Bilingual Olympiad, which was held at Nanyang Girls High School.

Just after 5pm, the girl flounced home and excitedly told me her friends had clinched first prize in the competition, and according to her, for the first time in the school’s history. “Wow! Your friends and teachers must be very happy! I’m sure the crowd went wild!” I felt her excitement and genuinely shared her happiness.

“There was nobody else from our school. I was the only supporter,” she corrected me. I was not entirely surprised by the abysmal turnout. My wife and I have gleaned from various incidents and episodes over the past two years that most of her classmates are not exactly team players. Her presence as the lone cheerleader was all the more poignant when contrasted against the absence of everyone else.

I am not sure if her class is a microcosm of our competitive society, but our education system does promote a zero-sum, winner-takes-all culture. Imagine this: if the so-called elite secondary schools have limited intakes, friends vying for the coveted spots will turn into competitors. Defenders of the system may claim this is the reality we are living in.

Instead, the future economy needs people who are not only creative and innovative, but can connect well with others. There are many examples of successful collaborations such as McDonald’s and Sanrio (Hello Kitty), Starbucks and Moleskine, and Uber and Spotify. The phrase “win-win situation” has never been truer today. On a smaller scale, photographers, makeup artists, florists and fashion designers get together to showcase their talents by creating content for their target markets. Even direct competitors such as photographers team up to offer joint workshops or bundled products. Gone are the days when creators kept to themselves and jealously guarded their trade secrets, which seems futile, now that you can find all sorts of how-to videos on Youtube.

If we, as parents, continue to stick to our outdated values and brainwash our kids into thinking it is solely a dog-eat-dog world, I doubt our children can make a positive impact on society that goes beyond attaining material wealth.

At one point or another in our parenting journey, some of us may be guilty of saying things like:

“Quick! Go and grab some before everything is gone!”

“If your classmates don’t know the answer, don’t tell them.”

“I know your teacher sets exam questions from this reference book. Keep this a secret.”

“It’s either tennis or swimming. What use is a team sport if you have to share the trophy with so many people?”

It is not hard to imagine what kind of people our kids will grow up to be if we persist with our foolish and short-sighted ways. I know I am stretching this article a bit based on one small decision my daughter made. Even though it was a small decision, it means a great deal to me. It shows that my little girl puts her friends before herself.

With this, I leave you with a parable:

It is pitch dark in a village when a monk sees a man carrying a lantern. Upon closer look, the monk discovers that the man is blind. Curious, the monk asks: “Excuse me, sir. I can’t help but wonder why you would need a lantern if you can't see?”

The blind man replies: “Is it very dark now? Well, after the sun sets, this village becomes very dark and the villagers are as blind as me.”

“So you are doing this for the villagers?” asks the monk, visibly impressed.

“Not exactly. I am doing this for myself. The villagers used to bump into me in the dark. Now, with the light from this lantern, they can see where they are going, I can walk around with peace of mind too.” The blind man smiles.


KC Wong is a photographer and a father of two. He has a daughter aged 12 and a son aged nine.

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